What to do with the military

Cecil Collins, Head, 1963


Commentary on the recently released book by Manuel Domingos Neto

A worrying elite consensus surrounds Brazilian democracy: that the Armed Forces had nothing to do with the escalation of the coup over the last four years, the culmination of which was the terror of January 8, in Brasília. Government, Judiciary and the majority of the Legislature, together with a large part of the media, rush to construct subjectless prayers in the face of a history of orders of the day, camps in front of barracks and the participation of high-ranking officials in articulations to discredit ballot boxes, institutions and organizations of society. A broad, general and unrestricted handover seeks to convince public opinion that without the uniforms, legality would have come to a screeching halt.

Numerous voices are rising up against this agreement. One of the most qualified is that of Manuel Domingos Neto, in the recently released What to do with the military – Notes for a new national defense. Retired professor at the Federal University of Ceará and former federal deputy, the author presents a kind of synthesis of almost half a century of research, countless contacts with officials and refined analysis of the recent past. He makes no bones about his reasoning: “I wrote this book for those who think it is possible to appease the barracks by meeting corporate demands. Lula believed this and was arrested. He returned to government under the influence of the rifle. Dilma also believed and lost her position.”

For Domingos Neto, the essential problem is what he calls the military's functional personality disorder. All the preaching of the higher commands exalts the defense of sovereignty and a diffuse concept of Homeland. However, since independence, soldiers are mostly trained for another activity, fighting the “internal enemy”. This would have materialized in the maintenance of the colonial-slavery system, in the repression of separatist movements in the Empire and any type of popular rebellion in the Republic.

In the Cold War, from 1945 onwards, the mission was guided by theories of counter-insurgency and the fight against so-called subversion. From then on, the soldier sees himself as a “politician, police officer, businessman, social worker, public administrator, road builder, well driller in the semi-arid region, forest guard, border guard, knowledgeable in Public Security, air, coastal and fluvial, supreme evaluator of morality and planner of national destiny”, writes the author. Unable to perform its essential function, defense against external aggression, the Forces assumed the role of frequent interveners in political life.

Domingos Neto assesses that Brazil has a semblance of defense. “In this area, the Republic failed. To affirm Brazilian sovereignty, we need a new Defense, which reviews the functions, organization and culture of the Armed Forces. I call this review military reform,” he says.

From there, the book outlines the basis for a profound change in the organization and objectives of the barracks. The initial step would be for the Forces to break away from the large transnational arms industry and the designs of the hegemonic powers.

The proposed reform should review the excessive number of generals with no role and the distribution of troops across the country, in addition to opening the way for women and black people to rise in the hierarchy. The work highlights the need for greater state investment in science and technology, to provide the sector with operational capacity in the face of the new characteristics of war. Finally, a major national debate on Defense must be opened. This is an eminently political articulation, which cannot be restricted to the walls of the barracks. “Commanders need to be consulted about Defense, but its conception and conduct are up to the politician”, emphasizes Domingos Neto.

Two points seek to tie together the set of propositions made in the book. The first is to put an end to the idea that the Armed Forces would be a moderating power, with the capacity to intervene in the country's political life, as established in article 142 of the Constitution. The second points to a comprehensive Defense policy, which needs to include the country's social and civic cohesion. This would imply a reduction in poverty and inequality, all types of prejudices and regional disparities, in addition to the consolidation of the democratic regime.

What to do with the military It is a work of intervention and almost a libel for changing the place of Arms in State policies. The appeal is emphatic: “Today, the generals try to manage losses and damages due to their direct and indirect involvement in the coup chaos. Lula persists in appeasement: he celebrates Army Day, a ritual that praises the colonial nature of the corporation and exalts the Army of Caxias, an expression that legitimizes the domestic interventions of the Land Force”.

Everything indicates that there is a historic opportunity to promote a major restructuring of the Defense and security forces. Manuel Domingos Neto's book is a powerful warning that this opportunity does not last forever.

*Gilberto Maringoni, is a journalist and professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).


Manuel Domingos Neto. What to do with the military – Notes for a new national defense. Parnaíba, Reading Cabinet: 2023, 224 pages.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles